The Incredible Legacy of the Women of Rankin Ranch
Updated: Jul 2
The epicenter of Rankin Ranch lies in a valley of Walker’s Basin, just outside the tiny town of Caliente, California. The cattle ranch has been in operation for over 155 years—and remained in the Rankin family the entirety of its existence. Six generations have sweat over the vast acreage they call home (31,000 acres to be exact).
Walker and Lavinia Rankin
In 1863, Walker Rankin established the property. Years prior, the Pittsburgh native felt called to the West, and luckily enough, found success in the California gold fields. All the hard work and dedication he and his wife, Lavinia, poured into the land left a lasting impression that would extend from their children, to their grandchildren, and so on. Walker is even credited with bringing the first purebred Hereford cattle to the region.
After his passing, Lavinia continued to run the ranch.
“Her family came across the plains by covered wagon to settle in California when she was a young girl. This pioneering spirit carried through her long life of 100 years and 4 months. During this time, she saw so many changes with transportation transitioning from horse and buggy to seeing planes fly. She was a very progressive woman and owned one of the first cars in the area. Nana would travel to her grandsons’ football games and take a car full of kids with her to cheer on the team. Her longevity and adaptation to the many changes that she experienced are admirable.” -Amanda Barrett
The expanse of all that has been accomplished on Rankin Ranch piles high. Many have been involved with the Kern County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen’s orgainzations. The honor of Cattlewoman of The Year has been bestowed on Helen Rankin in 1988, Glenda Rankin in 2008, and Amanda Rankin Barrett in 2013. Amanda was also selected to be a National Beef Ambassador is 2007, allowing her to travel the country and speak about the beef they raise.
Amanda Rankin Barrett
Rankin Ranch also serves as a dude ranch, with mountain cabins and the opportunity to experience the cowpoke lifestyle. A wide range of activities from horseback riding to fishing to feeding farm animals to square dancing are on the agenda each day. It was developed by Helen Rankin in 1965 as a way to diversify the family business and take the edge off their dependence on the ever volatile cattle market.
“My grandfather, Leroy (grandson of Walker and Lavinia), passed away unexpectedly in 1954 and my grandmother, Helen, found herself with a difficult decision to make: should she keep the ranch or sell it? Many people advised her to sell, as there were not many cattle ranches run by women at that time. She chose to honor our family’s legacy and learn how to manage the cattle ranch. Ten years later she began building our guest ranch facilities. She was ahead of her time in the field of agritourism. Through her hard work and determination, she established our guest ranch which has been in operation for over 50 years. We now have 3rd generation Rankin Ranch guests. One family celebrated their 50th year visiting the ranch in 2018.” -Amanda Barrett
Shelby Newman started full time at Rankin Ranch in 2017 after graduating from the University of Montana Western with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Natural Horsemanship. Before that, she spent her summers working with the Rankins.
“I would say that my job title is a secretary… but not the kind of ‘secretary’ that everyone thinks of. My job varies greatly from day to day and you never know what you might end up doing. In the case of Rankin Ranch, titles don’t mean much and no title is more or less important than another.” -Shelby Newman
On any given day, Shelby may have responsibilities to manage in the office, like answering emails or helping guests. On other occasions should could be out in the pastures wrangling horses or being a camp counselor to the visiting children, many of whom are experiencing ranch life for the first time.
Marie Myllyla has spent the past few summers working at Rankin Ranch. Earlier this year, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls with a BS in Animal Science and an emphasis in Equine Science.
“The best part of working on a ranch are the horses. I wouldn’t have had a job if it weren’t for those horses. They work hard day in and day out. They don’t complain. You’ll find one you get along with well and that makes for a good day working with them 10+ hours. You get to know what they want, they get to know what you want.” -Marie Myllayla
“After graduating from Cal Poly in 2008 and returning home, I had an interest in selling our beef. My time as a National Beef Ambassador had opened my eyes to the beef side of our business. This idea was not something new, as the family had considered it over the years. My father and I had many conversations about it before taking the leap in March 2014.
It has been an exciting adventure, with lots of learning along the way. We sell our beef here at the ranch to guests and the local community. We also travel to neighboring communities for Farmers’ Markets. We have earned a loyal following of repeat customers. Our beef is all natural, grass fed, and grain finished. The beef is aged at the butcher shop for 21 days before cutting it up into delicious steaks, roasts, and more. We are very proud of the quality.” -Amanda Barrett
“The best part about my job is the people! The Rankin family is one in a million. From Bill and Glenda Rankin (Nana and Papa, as I know them) to all eight cousins in the 6th generation and everyone in between. Everyone is kind, genuine, knowledgeable, inviting, and so much more.” -Shelby Newman
“I learned the value of a positive work ethic and teamwork at a very young age. As children, we were always included in the day’s work and learned what it takes to keep the ranch running. My parents also emphasized the value of respect. You respect others, the land, and the livestock. When you give respect, you will often get it in return.” -Amanda Barrett
Amanda with her dad, Bill
Horse Etiquette to Remember from Marie Myllayla
Your horse dictates what you’re going to work on for that day. If you start your day thinking, “we’re going to work on leads,” you and your horse are going to struggle.
Recognize the slightest response and reward it.
Consistency is key with training – present a cue the same way every time. I think a horse’s best quality is their try. You find a way to get desire and try out of your horse, and you really can’t ask for anything more.
Shelby and Marie herding cattle with the modern-day help of a helicopter.